Memories of Judge Tom Shriver came back to me over the past several days. Judge Shriver was the long time District Attorney General for Davidson County, Tennessee. Later , Judge Shriver became a criminal court judge in Davidson County. I have been working on a case and thought about some advice he gave me years ago.

Judge Shriver taught criminal law and procedure at the Nashville School of Law. He ran his courtroom like a classroom. Discussions on the law were commonplace during court rather than just deciding the issue. One day Judge Shriver wanted to tell me the rules on when a client should testify. Deciding whether your client should testify in his case is one of the hardest decisions for a criminal defense lawyer. The decision to testify is that of the client, however they always want your advice. Since he was going to share his wisdom of years in the criminal courts of Nashville , I drew near so as not to miss a word. Here are his five rules on deciding whether you should have your client testify.

  1. Never put your client on the witness stand.
  2. Never put your client on the witness stand.
  3. Never put you client on the witness stand.
  4. Never put your client on the witness stand.
  5. See rule one.

I was thinking about that advice on a case where a client made some statements to police that contradicted the theme of the defense. The police have the advantage where they get statements before an attorney is involved. This is another reason no one should speak to police. Remember all rules have exceptions . here is one example of the rule. I had a first murder case in Sumner County, Tennessee. Our plan all along was to have the client testify. As trial neared, we had a practice direct examination and I hired an attorney to cross-examine my client. He wilted under cross. We changed our strategy and he was convicted of reckless homicide rather than first degree murder.

Make sure you never give any statements to police that can later be used against you in court. Secondly, practice your testimony prior to trial and be prepared to be cross-examined.

One final thought. I wish I would have written down all the great advice that has been given to me over the years.